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Indigenous Red Deer couple are mentors and community-builders ‘to give back’

‘We are trying our hardest and our best to help our community’
Theresa “Corky” Larsen-Jonasson and her husband Lynn Jonasson are Indigenous Elders who are helping a lot of people in their community stay in touch with their culture and overcome struggles. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff).

Red Deer elder Lynn Jonasson was honoured to be presented with a traditional Indigenous feathered headdress this month in recognition of his dedication to helping struggling people find a better way of life.

It’s not the first time the Blood tribe from Southern Alberta has wanted to bestow the Cree man with this gift. But it’s the first time that Jonasson felt that he’d finally earned it after years of mentoring for “well-briety” at the Red Deer Remand, Safe Harbour, Vantage Community Services, Amethyst House, Many Healing Blankets, and other organizations.

“I am humbled for sure,” said Jonasson, before a June 3 ceremony at Spring Feast at Fort Normandeau. “It’s a huge thing to carry a (headdress) like that.”

Lynn and his wife Theresa “Corky” Larsen-Jonasson are both in their 60s — meaning they are on the young side of being considered community Elders. Yet they are called upon to perform Indigenous ceremonies and advise on cultural ways.

You become an Elder only if the community makes you one, explained Corky. Although initially “scared” of the responsibility, she has grown into the role by trying hard to live up to the expectations of those who bestowed her with this honor.

“The community watches how you live, watches what you do. They invite you to pray in open ceremonies,” said Corky, who with Lynn, incorporate Indigenous culture and ceremonies into their everyday lives.

The couple raised a teepee in their backyard on Michener Hill for the last few summers — which turned out to be a great conversation starter and way to get to know your neighbours, said Corky, with a chuckle.

“I found out we have a lot more allies than I thought… We are trying our hardest and our best to help our community.”

Corky said Lynn is rarely home some weeks, between leading well-briety meetings at various organizations and the remand centre. He explained he wants to share his appreciation for all the good things in his life — by helping other people overcome big challenges, including addictions and homelessness.

There was a time when Lynn also struggled, but help came in the form of AA meetings that he attended in the early 198os.

A new world opened up for Corky when she was adopted at age 35 by George Goodstriker, a family friend from the Kainai (Blood) Nation. She said she learned about cultural practises, based on the four elements: earth, water, air and fire, and “it was so beautiful, what he had given us… It saved my life.”

Corky eventually turned her love of writing and storytelling into is two children’s books‚ based on Indigenous cultural practises, including the ever popular The Sharing Circle, which shows children how to get along and resolve conflicts.

She’s also a member of the Red Feather Women, which advocates for and brings attention to missing and murdered Indigenous women. When the Walking With Our Sisters exhibit at the museum ended in 2015, “we had learned so much from each other, we said ‘Let’s keep it going.’” Sadly, their cause is still on-going — the group continues to write to politicians, hold marches and attend vigils.

Neither Corky, with a Danish father and a Cree mother, nor Lynn, with a Cree mother and an Icelandic father, had much connection with Indigenous culture as children, since their parents were taught European ways at school. But now the couple takes part in nearly every Indigenous cultural event that unfolds in the Red Deer area.

And behind the scenes, they continue to mentor youths and adults.

Lynn believes in “working as a community to support each other’s needs,” and leans on his own recovery experience to weave a 12-step program in with Indigenous beliefs and teachings. “Lots of Elders have given us knowledge, the storytellers, the truth-tellers,” Lynn said, and he feels it’s now his turn.

“These teachings were freely given to us, we have to give back what we receive.”

Lana Michelin

About the Author: Lana Michelin

Lana Michelin has been a reporter for the Red Deer Advocate since moving to the city in 1991.
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